Before Jesse LeBeau helped sell expensive basketball sneakers for Kobe Bryant or the “Black Mamba,” through shoe commercials, it was “Bob Mamba” who sold him on important life values.
LeBeau, the first of three speakers headlining this year’s Pillars of America Speaker Series, inspired over 500 attendees in Centennial Hall to set goals and have the courage to follow through with them. The Ketchikan native relayed childhood humiliations that nearly derailed his pursuit to play basketball at the highest levels.
One of the more poignant moments arrived about midway through the 45-minute talk, when LeBeau singled out his dad, or “Bob Mamba” seated at one of the front tables.
“When we were playing baseball on the Little League field, or he was rebounding 10,000 free throws for me in one month after I won the Elks Hoop Shoot or even when I was playing soccer,” LeBeau said, “he always taught me that it was bigger than the game and it’s the lessons that you learn through sports that are so important.”
LeBeau had the room’s rapt attention the moment he ran on stage with a basketball. As hip-hop music filled the convention center, LeBeau twirled the basketball from his fingers, spinning it along his arms and behind his head and even balancing on it for several seconds.
The actor, who was a stunt performer on the feature-length basketball movie “Thunderstruck” and has appeared in TV shows and commercials, gave Yaakoosgé Daakahidi High School sophomore Gabe Morrison a $100 bill and backpack full of goodies. Morrison was the first to the stage after LeBeau dangled the loot and asked, “Who wants it?”
“Taking action is the biggest thing that separates winning from losing in our lives,” LeBeau said after giving away the big bill. “Too often, we wait, we hope, we dream, we mediate, we write a pros and cons list, we ask our friends, we ask Snapchat. … All those things aren’t bad, they’re good, they’re all part of the process. But at a certain point, an opportunity presents itself, and you either act … or you can just sit and not have a new backpack with $100, two DVDs, two frisbees.”
LeBeau spent much the speech exhorting the youth to face their struggles head on. Afterward, an autograph line stretched several hundred feet from the stage, each teenager eager to share a word with the genial affable story teller.
“There’s a lot of people who are going through difficult things, and if you’re one of those people, my encouragement for you today is for you to speak up,” LeBeau said near the end of the speech. “Just like that. Take action with the example of Gabe. If you don’t take action, if you don’t find an adult, a mentor, a friend that you can share what’s going on to, it’s very unlikely it’s going to get better.”
Morrison said he learned a valuable lesson from LeBeau.
“I learned that no one can tell you what to do when you believe in it,” Morrison said. “You need to believe in yourself; no one else.”